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TEXT: Isaiah 33
SUBJECT: Good News, Bad News
In Isaiah 33, the Lord speaks to two kinds of people: His friends and His enemies. In context, His enemies are the Assyrians, a powerful nation at the time, known for their military success and appalling cruelty. Their king, Sennacherib, had won every battle he had ever fought, some against powerful nations and Empires. And now, he and his army are laying siege to Jerusalem, cocksure of victory. The Assyrians are the enemies of Judah, and of Judah's God.
His friends are the Jewish people then living in the southern Kingdom. Their devotion to the Lord is not as deep or wide as it ought to be, but their king, Hezekiah, is one of the holiest men to rule in Jerusalem, a worthy successor to King David.
In the first verse, God speaks to the proud king and his people, and what He says is none too pleasant-
Woe to you who plunder and have not been plundered; and to you who deal treacherously, though they have not dealt treacherously with you! When you cease plundering, you will be plundered, and when you make an end of Dealing treacherously, they will deal treacherously with you.
In the first part of the verse, the Lord accuses them of plundering weaker nations after breaking every treaty with them. Assyria has done this repeatedly, and while, as of yet, they have 'gotten away with it', it won't be long until they reap what they sowed. They will be plundered and the guarantees of peace made with them will be ignored.
This last part may well be a personal message to the King himself. For on coming home from this campaign, he will be assassinated in the house of his god, by his own son. Senacherib was a traitor and a murderer; his son will betray and murder him.
Down in v. 10, we see there's more to the Assyrian defeat than matters military and political. The Lord Himself is behind their destruction; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob personally and directly-
Rises, exalts Himself, and lifts Himself up.
.to humble and ruin this wicked and hateful nation.
In vv.11-12, he pictures His anger as 'fire'-
Fire shall devour you.the burnings.the burnings of lime.cut up and burned in the fire.
This is what awaits the King of Assyria and his savage armies. But wait.even in Zion there are traitors, a fifth column of Jews who support the enemies of their people. They, too, will feel the heat of God's anger, which they describe as-
Devouring fire.everlasting burnings.
Here, I have to wonder if the prophet is using different words to avoid monotony, or do the untrue men of Israel know that the Fire of God's Wrath is not extinguished with death? I'm not sure what he means here, but the New Testament bears a clear and terrifying witness to Eternal Damnation-
The Lake of Fire, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
These are commonly called, 'figures of speech', but I'm not so sure they are; and even if they are, what do the figures present? They present what the old-time Fire and Brimstone preachers used to call-
Eternal conscious punishment.
I don't yell in the pulpit, my face doesn't turn red, and I never thump the Bible.but Hell is real and hot and forever. And every one of us will be sent there unless we repent of our sins and put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even nice church boys like myself will suffer that fate, for the Lord Himself said to nice Synagogue boys and girls-
Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
This is the Bad News; it's really bad; it's sent to the Assyrians, to the sinners in Zion, and then, in v.13, the message is broadcast to all-
Hear, you who are far off what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
Jew and Gentile, near and far: that pretty much includes everyone, then and there, here and now. Nobody is exempt from the demands of God's Law and the punishment that follows from breaking it. Paul makes this clear in a verse I quote almost every week, Romans 3:19-
Now, whatever the Law says it says to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world become guilty before God.
The whole world is guilty and liable to Eternal Damnation. Including you. Very bad news, indeed.
Then comes the Good News. When God exalts Himself to punish His enemies, He is, at the same time, rising up to save His friends. We've asked for this, v.2-
Oh Lord, be gracious to us.
And He answers us, v.5-
Filling Jerusalem with justice and righteousness, wisdom, knowledge, and stability.
The friends of the Lord will not suffer His devouring fire and everylasting burnings!
And, more than 'what they get out of', the chapter dwells on 'what they get', vv.20-24-
You shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that will not be taken down.a place of broad rivers and streams.where no (enemy) ships will pass by.(there) the Lord our Lawgiver, Judge, and King will save us.(and not just the super saints, the Christian commandoes, but also)-
The lame will take their prey.
This harks back to David's ordinance, stipulating that all the soldiers in the army will have an equal share in the spoils, including the ones who are too scared or too tired or too weak to become heroes! David is the hero! His Son is the Hero!
For people like me, who can never quite shake the feelings of guilt that have haunted me my whole life, there's the best promise of all, v.24b-
The people who dwell in it will be forgiven their iniquity.
The quality of this Good News is equal to-actually, it is more good than the bad news is bad! I once heard a preacher say, 'The central message of the Bible is judgment'. He's right, of course, but not in the way he meant it. He meant the Judgment of Hell, while, in fact, the central message of the Bible is the Judgment of the Cross! Not the guilty suffering for themselves, but.the Innocent suffering for the guilty! Christ in our place. On the Cross. In the darkness of noon. Under the wrath of God.
What wonderful news this is! It can never be preached too often! Or rejoiced in more fervently!
GOOD NEWS FOR WHOM?
But wouldn't' you know it? The minute we get the Good News, there's something in it to scare us. Vv.14-16 tell us who gets the Good News, and honestly, it makes me squirm.
In the last part of v.14, we have the question-
Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with the everlasting burnings?
The wording here could be a bit clearer, but the meaning is clear enough: Who survives the Judgment? Who remains standing when the Lord comes to judge the earth? In a word: Who goes to Heaven? In v.15, the prophet tells us-
He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, he who despises the gain of oppressions, who gestures with his hands, resisting bribes, who stops his ears from hearing bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil.
To 'walk righteously' refers to the conduct of your whole life, not just parts of it where you're 'good', but every aspect: family, work, money, sex, entertainment, eating, drinking, everything done with personal discipline in the fear of the Lord.
Including what you say and how you say it; that is, 'he speaks uprightly'. You don't lie or exaggerate, you don't gossip, you don't cut people down or take the Lord's name in vain.
You also don't take bribes or show favoritism to the people who can help you, while ignoring or mistreating the people who cannot.
If someone shows you something you shouldn't look at, you don't look at it! When someone whispers something you shouldn't hear, you turn a deaf ear to it!
This person-and this person alone-
Will see the King in His beauty.
This is not King Hezekiah, but Israel's true King: The Lord. Whose smiling face you will see and hear the words we all long so ardently to hear-
Well done, good and faithful servant.enter into the joy of your Lord.
I have two things to say about this man: (1) That's exactly the kind of man who ought to go to Heaven, and (2) That man is.not me!
No facet of my life is fully surrendered to the Lord, and some are hardly surrendered at all. All of you have heard me say foolish things; and some of you have heard me say things that are worse than foolish: proud things, angry things, vengeful things, even taking the Lord's Name in vain. As far as I know, I've never taken a bribe, but I have favored some people over others; I've also looked at and listened to a great many things I shouldn't have.
This means: Maybe Heaven is for Job or Daniel or Paul or a handful of other saints, but it's not for me. I'm out. And maybe you feel that you are too.
If you feel this way, you're right: You and I are both out of luck! We ought to be this kind of person, and sometimes we want to be, but let's face it: I don't think you are and I know I'm not!
And so, here we are: not in the Holy City with godly Hezekiah, but in the camp with the wicked Assyrians. Already under the Judgment. And waiting for more.
Until we remember and believe that, in fact, Hezekiah is also outside the city, as are Job and Daniel, Paul, and the handful of saints I alluded to a moment ago. Everyone is excluded, from pimp to preacher-
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God!
Except for one single solitary man: Our Lord Jesus Christ. His whole life was lived righteously; His every word was upright; He never took a bribe, looked or listened to anything He shouldn't have. Only He is-
Holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
Only Jesus has a claim on Heaven; only He can stand in the Judgment, withstand the scrutiny of an all-knowing God. So.He's in and we're out.
.unless we get into Him. This is the very thing God offers us in His Gospel. Not a second chance-we've had plenty of those, and never did better than the first time! No, what God gives us is His Son, who took the everlasting burnings onto Himself at the Cross, and now offers a righteousness that will stand up in the Presence of God!
Everyone can have His Righteousness, but nobody can have it except in one way: Through faith in Christ, which includes 'mental assent to the doctrines of the Bible', but goes beyond that to your own personal trust placed in and kept in your Savior.
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